The decision by LRGHealthcare to furlough as many as 600 workers — including doctors, nurses, technicians, receptionists, custodians and other employees throughout the facility — sent shock waves through the Lakes Region.
It also galvanized a grassroots effort to show that the LRGH's providers enjoy broad support within the communities they serve.
While it is undoubtedly true that broad support for LRGH exists, what's less clear is whether that backing extends to the current management — the board of trustees and the administration of President and CEO Kevin Donovan.
When most people think of their health care delivery system, it's not the bricks and mortar they think of, nor are the administrators and board members the first ones who come to mind.
Rather, they think first of the doctors, nurses, receptionists, technicians, etc. — in other words, many of the very people who were furloughed.
In the wake of LRGH's announcement, some patients who had appointments scheduled were called and told that their doctor's offices were going to be closed until late summer.
We don't know if the patient upheaval that resulted from the furloughs could have been avoided, but it's pretty unsettling to hear that your doctor's office is going to be closed for the next several months. Compounding that sense of unease is the fact that Belknap County's population is among the oldest in a state that itself is one of the oldest in the country.
LRGH plays a vital role in the community, and it is a fairly beloved organization. Not only is it the region's largest employer, it's a vital part of the Lakes Region's identity and a security blanket of sorts for residents, who have been able to take comfort in knowing that there is a hospital right up the road if they need one. As real estate broker Chris Kelly wrote in a letter to the editor of The Daily Sun, “The fact that a young family or an older couple are within short driving distance to LRGH means success in sales.”
While the furloughs and millions of dollars in loans have allowed LRGH to keep the lights on and treat patients who have come down with COVID-19, we fear it has come at a steep longer-term cost – a loss of confidence in LRGH's long-term prospects and its management.
We've heard for months that LRGH has been actively engaged in trying to find a partner, a process that has been hamstrung by the organization's huge debt load and operating losses. We don't know the substance of those talks, but the health care industry has been merger-happy for years, so the fact that no deal has emerged raises the question of whether LRGH management hasn't drastically overestimated their bargaining position.
While it would be nice if LRGH were able to find a partner that would allow control to remain in local hands, that may be a luxury at this point. A fully functioning health care system governed by non-locals would be preferable to a locally controlled shell of its former self.